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The Sorcerer’s Spell


by

Dani Kristoff


Copyright information

First published in 2014 by Impulse, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers Australia

This edition published by Donna Maree Hanson 2017


Copyright © Donna Maree Hanson 2014 and 2017.


The moral right of the author has been asserted.


All rights reserved. This publication (or any part of it) may not be reproduced or transmitted, copied, stored, distributed or otherwise made available by any person or entity (including Google, Amazon or similar organizations, in any form (electronic, digital, optical, mechanical) or by any means (photocopying, recording, scanning or otherwise) without prior written permission from the author.


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National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry


ISBN 978-0-6480650-0-5 (ebook)

ISBN 978-0-6480650-1-2 (Print on Demand)

Cover by www.cathyscovers.wix.com/books

To report a typographical error, please email donnamareehanson@gmail.com



Contents


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty




Chapter One



In his basement sanctum, Dane completed the incantation. The delicate gold bracelet focused his summoning spell, the personal jewellery vaporising in a flash of light as it was consumed. She was wily this Nira, this sorceress, but her resistance crumbled as the spell clawed at her spirit and began to drag her to his den. Her anger pushed like a bow wave before her and, as the force of it washed over him, he grinned. He could sense her now, the essence of her, as she struggled against him. There was power there and something more. It was hard to place. Yet he smiled confidently, certain of victory.

Nira had hexed him with a powerful spell, one that turned him into a werewolf at the moon’s turning and he was desperate to have it removed. Each time he succumbed to it he lost a little of himself and the beast gained more control. Soon it would claim him completely—body and soul.

Nira materialised. Dane kept his face bland, kept his jaw tight; she was not what he was expecting. He thought she would be older, more experienced. Instead, she appeared younger than him.

Her green eyes were wide as she took in her surroundings then narrowed when she saw him. There was no flash of recognition. She frowned and curled her hands into fists. ‘I demand you release me,’ she said, voice surprisingly deep. Hidden in her words was the spell of compulsion, which Dane deflected with a lift of an eyebrow.

The strength of her magic surprised him. Where had that power come from? He had not detected her accessing it. He sharpened his perception, seeing into her. The poles of her power were not immediately apparent and he was unable to gauge her strength.

Yet his summoning still bound her. Her efforts to fight against his hold made her essence slippery and insubstantial. Impatient, Dane inserted mental claws, anchoring her tight so she could not dematerialise.

Nira eased up her struggles, although by the lift of her chin, she had not given up. The muscles of her jaw bunched and her eyes narrowed to slits as power rippled off her. ‘Who are you? What do you want?’ Her expression was blank, giving no sign that there was a silent, magic duel going on between them.

The sorceress circled him. Dane’s gaze lingered on her long, tanned legs; her thighs teasing the edge of her short skirt. Lifting his eyes to study her, he was tempted by her tawny skin and luscious breasts. Her blonde hair was striking against her darker skin tones. Then there were those eyes, that startling green. His breath caught when their gazes locked.

Perhaps ridding himself of this terrible curse would be more pleasurable than he had first thought. He hid what he was thinking behind a frown. ‘My name is Dane Archwright and you cursed me.’

There was a hitch in her stride, and she averted her face momentarily. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ she said, turning to face him. ‘Release me.’ The accompanying thrust against his hold was anticipated. He squeezed her essence in his mental grip.

‘I’ve tracked the curse to you. There’s no point in denying it.’ His voice was rough with anger.

Unable to hold his gaze, she lowered her eyelids.

He breathed, letting some of his ire slide. ‘I don’t even know you. Why did you curse me?’ he asked, his voice softer, better modulated, now that his anger was under control.

Her lips drew into a straight line and she did not speak. Defiance brightened her eyes.

So, he thought, she will not explain. ‘Remove this curse.’ His voice came out hard, almost a growl, a remnant of the beast that lurked inside.

She froze and then angled her chin to the side. ‘I cannot.’

A growl left his throat, despite his restraint. ‘I’ll give you one last chance. Lift this damned curse.’

She laughed and turned away. ‘Never.’ She gave a mighty mental heave as she thrust against his spell. Dane grinned when his hold didn’t budge.

‘Then you will face the consequences.’ Dane began the ritual of binding, sending threads of power to surround and penetrate her. Bound to him she would have no choice but to obey. When she realised what he was doing, a deep groan of despair rose up from her.

‘No! You can’t possibly do this.’ Her mouth opened as if to scream.

He relished the taste of her fear. ‘You’re not meant to have such power…such knowledge,’ she said through clenched teeth. Bringing her power to bear, she tried to shake him off, to push and tear into him.

‘Ahh…so you underestimated me. A good thing to know. I can and will bind you to me. I will force your compliance unless you remove the curse now.’

She shook her head, frantic jerks. ‘I can’t release you from the curse. It would be my life if I did. That is all I can say.’

‘Do you think I give a damn about your life? You would condemn me to live as an animal forever. Why?’

He waited for her to answer. Defiance locked her face and lips tight. Reluctantly, Dane spoke the final words, sending the last heavy chain of binding to wrap around her throat. He had hoped the threat would have been enough to make her lift the curse. No one went willingly into a binding.

Her eyes rounded with alarm as the spell tightened further. Power smouldered in her eyes as she probed the boundaries of his spell.

As her struggle increased he let a small smile of satisfaction creep onto his face. She was secured.

A surge of sexual desire hardened him so rapidly pain snaked down into his legs. He gasped and doubled over, eyes watering from the intensity. So that’s where she hid her power—in her sexual pole. It was the first time he’d encountered such a phenomenon.

When Nira saw that her sexual lance had had the desired effect she ceased struggling, her smile exultant. ‘To bind me you will have to master me sexually. I doubt you have it in you.’

‘You think?’ He could not hide his incredulity. He shook his head and narrowed his gaze. Two could fight at that game. ‘Not a chore at all. I will dig so deeply inside of you there will be no secrets between us.’

The fact that she had so much power in her sexual pole gave him pause. He did not know what it meant. Collegiate teachings in sorcery did not encompass such things. Sorcery required the emotional, intellectual and sexual poles to be in balance. Hers were skewed to her sex.

Taking a step toward her he groaned as desire punched up into his gut. Painful, yet exhilarating. He would beat her at her own game. Her brand of power might be different but he was confident he had the means to master her.

A continuous wave of sexual desire assaulted him, clawed at him from without and within as he approached. Yet he knew it for what it was and did not let it penetrate.

This close, he had a greater sense of her power even though, physically, he was bigger and taller. He could smell her scent, taste her before he had even touched her—a gift from the beast that was now part of him.

As he towered over her, he placed his hand on her lower back and she tilted her head. With a brush of his lips against the column of her throat, sexual want flooded into him, set his blood raging through his veins. There was no way to stop the deluge. Her skin was hot, so hot. The thrill of skin-on-skin contact dominated his senses.

Her response was encouraging. Her scent reeked of desire, her pulse beating like a tattoo. He angled his body behind as she fell backwards into his embrace. Gazing up at him she opened her mouth, tempting him with her full lips. He scooped her up and carried her through the door and up the stairs. Once in his bedroom, he placed her on the bed.

With her eyes bright with power Nira lay languid and loose as he unbuttoned her blouse. She moaned as the material parted, uncovering dark-nippled breasts. While admiring her flawless skin and the smooth contours of her body he detected her attempts to unravel a thread of his magic. He reinforced the thread and gave her a mental tweak, letting her know that there were greater reserves in him. She growled in response, her eyes widening with something akin to excitement.

‘There’s no point in fighting it,’ he whispered in her ear before biting softly at the juncture of her neck. She had challenged him to a sexual contest, and he had every intention of winning so that he could seal the spell of binding, end the curse she had placed on him and return his life to some semblance of normalcy.

A low moan escaped her. ‘No, you mustn’t bind me,’ she whispered hoarsely, her breath teasing the skin of his chest. Her eyes rolled back and then her eyelids closed. ‘Has to be a way out,’ she said, groaning in frustration. Was it desire or something else that overcame her? ‘Come on,’ she whispered, ‘where are you?’ She mumbled some more. Her eyes snapped open. ‘Found you,’ she said under her breath.

Dane watched her as she lay apparently helpless against the sheets. Her skirt slid easily over her hips, revealing black lace panties. These he tugged lower, down over her knees and then tossed them on the floor. It was hard to control his arousal, artificially enhanced by her power. Desire was a two-edged sword if he gave into it.

He ran his hands up her thighs and over her stomach. Nira began to chant. He raised an eyebrow, wondering what the recitation could mean. Reaching in with his other sense, he detected no tampering with his bindings. Deciding to test his hold on her, he said, ‘Open yourself to me.’

Her right leg shifted an inch or two, giving him access to her dark, moist centre. He slid two fingers inside her. She was wet and ready. This gave him pause. Why would she be ready for him if she was fighting his hold on her? Was it the battle itself that excited her? Or was it the thought of a sexual encounter?

He captured her lips in his, and she moaned low in her throat. Her hands caressed his chest, her nails lightly scoring his skin. Dane disengaged from the kiss to nuzzle her breasts. Nira arched her back beneath him. Dane’s own binding began to draw him in.

Ah, so this is the down side, to bind her I have given too much of myself. I am as bound as she is. If I do not control this, I will not win.

The thought that she was faking her reaction to him made him wary, allowing him to control how far he let his own sexual power entwine with hers.

Now actively engaged in enjoying her body, the silken feel of her breasts against his hands, the tangy taste of her nipple on his tongue, he found it difficult to keep his mind on maintaining the magic of his binding spell. He paused for breath. Her eyes were bright and full with arousal. Her body undulated with each caress, her breasts seeking more stimulation. Dane’s own arousal was potent. He wanted to be inside her, riding her, hearing her hoarse cries of pleasure in his ears.

Realising he’d been distracted he snapped all his power tight, making sure that her will and her essence were tied down. Testing the bindings, he found them secure.

Her nails raked his back, her hips thrusting into his palms as he continued to probe her heat. His skin came alive. Drawn into her texture, the consummate pleasure of her scent surrounded him. He couldn’t hold back.

Moving over her, he placed himself carefully to enter her. She met him, guiding him inside. Dane gasped at the first squeeze of her against his erection. Able to control her muscles, she had him gasping. He tried to win back control over this sexual encounter. Gripping her hips, he ground himself inside her sex, groaning with the pure pleasure of her. The abandoned way she opened herself to him was exciting. A glimpse of her face, her blissful expression, drew him deeper.

He was in her. Her scent surrounded him. He was there, moving with her. The suspicion that she was exerting her power over him, despite his best efforts to block her, allowed him to draw back from the heady arousal he’d almost surrendered to. He shook his head, fighting against the tendrils of the binding that were seeking to anchor in him as well as in her.

His research into binding had hinted at such traps, and he thought himself above such mere physical desires. Yet there was something inexplicable in his reaction to her. He hated and admired her. How could he feel this strong an attachment, this powerful a link? Surely there was hidden magic at work. How powerful was she? He had to win this. There was no other choice for him. He needed to be free of the curse.

The friction of their skin as he slid in and out drew him out of his mind again. It was as if all his nerve endings centred on his cock. He reached down and cupped her buttocks, lifting her to meet his eager thrusts. She was calling out now, ‘Let me in. Let me in.’

He did not understand what she was saying, didn’t care. He was in the moment. As he moved within her she clung to him, her lips searching for his, her tongue teasing his own. Breaking the kiss, she began to call out, to scream her pleasure. Dane took this as a signal that the binding was complete and lost himself in his ecstasy.

Then a sudden cry from her and she went limp in his arms.

‘Nira?’




Chapter Two



Annwyn Flaydin climbed from the bubble bath. The soap suds slid from her body to puddle on the cool blue floor tiles. Wiping the condensation from the mirror, she pushed her damp dark hair away from her face. Smudged pale skin and brown eyes loomed in the foggy glass. She wiped it again with her forearm. A forlorn figure gazed back at her. This was who she was—a lonely widow with the memory of her husband’s hands on her skin, with his love and the joy of his protection a distant echo. Even after three years she was flailing about in life, looking for a purpose, a reason to keep on going.

Yet she kept on living. She took joy in the little things. The children in the day-care centre where she worked filled her with love. The occasional night out with her workmates lifted her spirits. Her garden, too, soothed her soul. The grief had to end soon. She’d move on with her life.

Thomas would not like the life she had led since his passing. He had wanted her to go on and live a full, rich life, marry again, have children, laugh…

After dressing in her pyjamas she wandered aimlessly through the house. A small tea light candle burned on the dining room table, sending flickering golden light around the room. The tips of her fingers brushed against the small ornaments on the display shelf. These held so many memories: of their first kiss, their wedding vows, making love on a stormy night on the carpet in front of the fire. The gentle caress of long ago-spoken words lingered in the corners of the room.

The tears began to build up and she scrubbed her eyes with the back of her hand, sniffing loudly.

‘That’s about enough from you,’ she said to the darkness, puffing out her breath with a heave of self-disgust. ‘Time for bed. No point in thinking about things you can’t have or moments that will never come again.’

Snuggled in her bed with the covers tucked under her chin, her mind returned to Thomas. Bunching her fists together, she tried to stop herself going back there. Every night it was the same: she dreamed of him and was left pining for him more than the night before. It made no sense. It wasn’t natural. He should have sunk into memory by now. Why did her grief still feel so fresh, her longing so potent? But as sleep took hold of her, she found herself there in his arms with his lips savouring hers as she surrendered.

It seemed to Annwyn as she tossed and turned that the dream was becoming more and more real. The texture of fantasy and patched-together moments, which had been the flavour of her previous dreams, was absent. This one was more coherent and directed. Thomas’s hands were running up her thighs, cupping her buttocks, moving her sinuously up against his body. There was a scent, so male, surrounding her. She responded to it instinctively, groaning her pleasure. As her arousal grew to a peak and her breathing grew hoarse she could hear Thomas calling her, calling her name and asking to be let in. She began to respond, seeking him in her dream. ‘Thomas?’

Then his presence grew, strong, spicy and overpowering. ‘Annwyn?’ Was that his voice? It didn’t sound familiar.

She could not conjure the image of his face, though his presence was there in her mind. Why was he hiding from her? ‘Thomas? Is that you? Why can’t I see you?’

The voice echoed again, loudly in her mind. ‘Listen, Annwyn, you need to let me in. Let me in. Then you can see me, see all of me again. Let me in. Say you will let me in.’ Again his voice sounded strange to her ears. It had an urgent, pleading note that she had never heard before. Thomas had always spoken to her gently, caressingly.

His hands on her skin distracted her. He was slipping inside, hot and eager. God, she thought, this is intense. She let out a moan.

Her dreams had never felt so alive, so real. She was moving with him as he pushed inside her then eased away, only to thrust harder. She found it hard to concentrate. It had been so long since she had been intimate with anyone.

‘Let you in?’ she panted, feeling her body press against the mattress with the weight of her phantom lover. ‘Where? Let you in where?’

His kisses were hard and urgent, kindling a fire deep within her belly. ‘Let me into you. It’s the only way we can be together again.’

Annwyn thought he was already inside her. How much deeper could he go? But he needed her, needed her to open to him on every level.

In the haze of her dream she caved in, surrendered so deeply as she reached out to him that her body shook from the force of it. ‘Come to me. Come in to me.’

The face materialised as the haze of dream lifted, the smile vicious and victorious. In her confusion, Annwyn did not realise until it was too late that it was a woman’s face, with piercing green eyes, alive with a power she could not fathom.

It was not Thomas at all.

Annwyn was ripped away. Her consciousness spun into darkness, all the while the man in her dream was making love to her, thrusting into her as her body responded.

Annwyn was tied to this action, linked inexorably to each thrust, each caress, each tantalising kiss. It was as if she was caught and held by a spell and there was no way she could break out of it. Her body was owned by that man, that touch. She had no will to stop him. She was being taken high in the sky where the clouds flowed and drifted, leaving her with barely a sense of the world she inhabited.

For what seemed like a long time she floated, tumbling free with no bed, no room, no house around her. Burning in her ears, stomach heaving, and skin screaming, the sensations overwhelmed her. The only constant was those large strong hands, lifting her hips, angling them for the next thrust, hot mouth on her throat, biting without wounding.

Down, down to earth Annwyn plunged. She cried out with the force of the movement, the abrupt arrival. The crease of the sheets stuck into her back. An orange-tinged hue haloed the bed and beyond light and dark waltzed in the corner of the room.

Screwing her eyes shut, she avoided looking. There was something very wrong in what was happening to her. This was not Thomas’s body on her, in her.

She jerked once, sucking in a breath. Then, opening her eyes, she screamed.

Screamed like the devil.

‘What the—’ said a deep voice beside her.

Annwyn heard him but kept on screaming. He disengaged from her, moved away from her yet remained on the bed. The mattress shifted beneath her as the springs adjusted to the change in weight. She screamed again.

‘Stop that,’ the man said, without a hint of sympathy. ‘You knew the consequences of your actions. You knew where this would lead. You will lift the curse now.’

He grabbed her foot. Annwyn kicked out at him, then curled her body into a ball. Through her light blonde hair, she scanned the room. The sound of paws scratching on wood drew her attention to dogs entering from further down the hall to pace around the bed. Some of them moved to huddle together in the corner. All with yellow eyes, watching her. Maybe not dogs. They were too large for dogs.

A sob escaped her, a terrified, visceral sob. Then her eyes flicked from one shadow to another. She could not look at the man sitting next to her on the bed. Her gaze leapt to the wall-sized mirror and to the image there. On a king-size bed, with pure white sheets sagging to the ground on one side, was the man, a sheen of sweat glistening between the shoulder blades and down the vee of his spine, his chest rising and falling noticeably after his exertions. Tall, with short-cut blond hair and wide shoulders tapering to a shapely behind, he sat staring at a woman with light-brown skin.

Annwyn stared at the reflection of the woman huddled near the bed head. It was her, and it was the woman in her dream—she had the same green eyes. She saw blonde hair, generous breasts and the soft flare of hips. Her skin was tawny, not pale and wan like Annwyn’s.

Annwyn sat forward and so too did the reflection. She held out a shaking hand and began trembling all over. That woman in the mirror was her. When she had let the woman in, she had taken over her body and thrust Annwyn here, into the arms of this man—a man the woman was obviously desperate to escape.

The man grabbed Annwyn’s legs and pulled her toward him.

Annwyn cried out, ‘No, stop!’

The man hesitated. ‘What is wrong with you? Nira? You have not broken the curse. It is still there, waiting to fall one final time. Do it now. I command it.’

Annwyn sat back from him, her arms folded, trying to rub the goose flesh from her skin. ‘Nira? I’m not Nira.’

The man leaned over her, supporting himself on his elbow, tracing a finger from her collar bone to her left nipple. ‘You look and smell like Nira. You respond to my touch like Nira.’

‘I am not Nira,’ she said, slapping his hand away. ‘This is not my body. I am Annwyn. I don’t know what’s going on or who you are or why you are touching me so…’

The man’s blue eyes widened and then narrowed. ‘Nira. I never took you for a fool so I don’t expect to be treated like one. This is not a game we are playing here.’

‘I’m not joking.’ Annwyn shivered, shielding her breasts with her hands. The man’s gaze travelled down her body, then his hand ran up her inner thigh, lightly touching the moistness there.

Annwyn opened her mouth to protest but found herself gasping instead. He eased two fingers inside her, and she arched her body to receive him. What the hell? This couldn’t be happening. She could not be in this situation with some stranger probing her body intimately and her body enjoying it on some instinctive level.

The man’s triumphant smile angered her. Did he think this was funny? ‘See, you are Nira. No point in pretending otherwise. I have bound you successfully.’

This shouldn’t be happening. She went to bed as Annwyn and now she was in someone else’s body. But it was no dream. She knew enough about dreams to know that this was too potent to be anything but reality. The thought should drive her crazy, but she was calm. What was left of her was intact, even though this new body made her experience alien responses to the man's touch.

‘I’m not Nira, I tell you. I don’t know what’s going on but for God’s sake stop touching me.’ She bit down on the groan threatening to spill out of her throat. Her stomach was churning with desire and fear.

The breath eased out of him as he took his hand away. His blue eyes glinted with sexual arousal. ‘You respond to my touch and cannot resist me, that’s how it’s meant to be. There’s no point in pretending otherwise. Release me from this curse, before it is too late to reverse.’

A howl filled the room. His gaze shifted to one of the beasts who neared the bed, keeping its citrine-coloured eyes focused on her. ‘Later, Rolf.’

It was then Annwyn realised it was a wolf, and a rather large one at that. The animal’s gaze was too knowing, too clear and it made Annwyn shudder. Wolves were not native to Australia. They were kept in zoos, not in people’s houses.

The man squeezed her calf and she shifted her legs, drawing them up beneath her, hiding her body from his lingering gaze. ‘I don’t know anything about curses. I’m Annwyn Flaydin, a childcare teacher from Red Hill. Last night I went to bed and had a dream. A dream…’ She swallowed before continuing, ashamed to admit that her nights were filled with phantom lovemaking. ‘A dream about making love with my husband. A voice I thought was his asked me to let him in. I did and then I found myself here.’

His gaze bored into hers. She detected a flicker of something around her head and shoulders, like the wings of a butterfly. The gaze shifted and focused inward. Rolf moved closer and the man scratched him between the ears. Some silent communication seemed to pass between them. Once again he was staring at her, a knot of anger between his brows and drawing down the sides of his mouth.

‘I don’t like this game. You will make things worse for yourself and will suffer for it.’

Annwyn kept her gaze steady and didn’t flinch. It was too important. It was too unreal, and she wanted things to be familiar. She wanted her house and her things and her memories and her pale skin and dark eyes. She wanted her life back, miserable as it was. Being naked in a strange man’s arms in another woman’s body was not what she had bargained for.

He lunged for her, grabbing her easily around the waist and easing her under him. His lips left hot trails down her neck to her breasts. Her fists hit against his chest, once and then twice, before her body reacted to the friction of his skin against hers. It was as if her will was undone, unravelled, ready to be rewound into whatever shape he chose.

Those hands probed and the mouth nuzzled. His firm body surrounded her, overwhelming her senses. She was crying out with joy and ecstasy with no thought of being in someone else’s body or in a strange man’s bed. It was all for that moment and those exhilarating feelings. She responded in kind, kissing and biting wherever her mouth met his flesh. She matched his desire equally and then he stilled suddenly. Gently, he disengaged from her and left her there, hanging, frustration taking the place of arousal.

The man sat back, removing his hands from her body as he retreated. The air chilled as he withdrew his warmth. There was calculation and speculation in his face as if he was still unconvinced, even though, over and over again, he said, ‘No, no…not possible, not...’

Annwyn sat up and tried to pull the sheet back onto the bed to cover herself. ‘Now you choose to believe me?’ she said haltingly, trying to recover her breath, her equilibrium. How dare he excite her like that, make her want him and then just stop. How could he do that? How could he have so much control?

It was not her own body yet she could sense his eyes on her breasts, her stomach and the autumn-coloured hair between her legs. The body she was in was healthy and somewhat sated. She moved slightly and grimaced. She was raw where the sex had been deep and penetrating. Now her blood was up, and she was left wanting. No, she thought. I have to use my head. She pushed the desire aside. ‘Who are you anyway? Where is this place?’

The intense blue eyes returned to look at her face. The speculation was still there but there was something else; shock. ‘You really don’t know who I am?’

She shook her head, smiled slightly. What a situation to find yourself in—naked in another woman’s body, in bed with an equally naked stranger with whom you have just had very vigorous sex.




Chapter Three



‘I am Dane Archwright. This is my place,’ he said quietly, his deep voice making her shiver in delight. How was it that his voice resonated within her, caressing her in places she didn’t know existed?

‘Dane,’ she repeated, savouring the sound of his name on those strange lips. The voice that came out of her mouth was deeper than her own. She rather liked the sound of it. Taking a moment to let her gaze linger on his thoughtful face, she considered that his name was unknown to her, just as his person was.

While he was distracted in reverie she let her eyes track the smooth skin of his torso down to where his erection still lingered. His body stiffened. He’d noticed her less than casual appraisal so she shifted her gaze to take in the room. It was large, more like a hall than a room. There were five windows, long and narrow, which revealed fields and paddocks, a farm perhaps, and what seemed to be a hallway leading to other rooms.

The wolves began to stir. Three of them began to tumble together playfully, biting and clawing at each other, but not in a serious way. They were so big they could be men in costumes, she thought.

Quite unexpectedly he reached out and tilted her chin to study her expression. ‘You look like her, hell, you are her, what am I saying? Of course you’re her. I find it hard to accept what you’re saying and yet there’s something not right about this…the energy is different. You’re different.’

His gaze bored into hers. Again there was something light, like the brush of ethereal wings in her mind, and then the presence was gone.

She returned his regard, studying the shape of his brow and the cut of his chin. There was something in his face that warmed her. Even though her current situation was extremely unsettling she did not fear him. It was as if this body was programmed to trust this man, to respond to him, to yield to him, to want him.

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘The eyes are different. They glitter in quite a different way. Do you see that candle over there on the sideboard?’ He pointed and her gaze followed.

‘Yes.’ There was a thick, round candle with a pearly white sheen.

‘Light it for me.’ His voice was light and curled around her insides.

When his meaning sunk in she frowned, shifting her gaze to and from the candle. ‘I don’t have a lighter.’

He stroked her hair carefully, letting his hand rest on her back. ‘You don’t need a lighter. Just relax and reach out with your power. Imagine the candle aflame.’ His breath caressed her skin. He touched her with gentle fingertips, placing his other hand on her solar plexus.

She sensed he was serious so she tried to do as asked. She concentrated on the candle and imagined it alight. Nothing happened, of course. She would have been surprised if it had suddenly burst into flame.

A frown drew his brows closer. ‘Again,’ he said.

She tried it again until the sixth time when he let out a breath. ‘Nothing. There’s nothing there.’

‘What do you mean?’ Annwyn asked, finding being close to him pleasant and comforting.

‘It means that you could be telling the truth, or…’

‘Or what?’ She studied his face, looking for signs that he was playing with her, trying to deceive her. He was all sharp edges and forcefulness, nothing like her gentle Thomas.

‘Or you are a very clever sorceress and you have found a way to thwart me.’

The harsh tone in his voice jolted her. When she looked up at the well-honed biceps and chest muscles and considered the aura of power surrounding him, she had reason to fear him, but she didn’t.

‘Sorceress? This Nira is a sorceress? Is that how she stole my body and put me in hers?’

Dane rubbed his chin, the blond regrowth of his beard scratching against his thumb. This sent a shiver of desire through her as she flashed back to the memory of him nuzzling her neck as he made love to Nira’s body.

‘It could have happened that way, but not while she was bound to me and my power. Yet you have raised the possibility that she may have slipped out of my grasp. You appear innocent, and I can detect no power in you. You could be telling the truth and that means Nira has made a fool out of me. It’s a deadly game, one with terrible consequences for me if I do not find her.’

‘Your power? Does that mean you are some kind of sorcerer too?’ Annwyn’s eyes widened. Magic, sorcery, the stuff of popular myth, not something one stumbles across every day. Not in her limited experience, at least. She knew Thomas’s family dabbled in that sort of thing, but her own roots were far too conservative. What could not be explained or objectively verified did not exist—until now.

‘Yes, though one bound in a curse he cannot break.’

‘I don’t understand. Can’t you use your own power to break this curse?’

He shrugged expressively. ‘I have tried. For many months now I have sought the one who had laid this curse on me. I planned well for tonight, for when this Nira would release me. I don’t even know why she cursed me. Maybe there is no reason, only that she could. And now she has apparently reached out to you, drawn you into this mess and stolen your life.’

‘Then you believe me?’ Her lips parted in surprise.

His gaze lingered on her mouth, and warmth gathered between her thighs. Lord, she thought, he can excite me with a look.

‘I consider it a possibility.’ He stood up. ‘First, where do you live?’

‘Canberra.’

‘Really? Which suburb?’

‘Mawson.’

‘That’s close. My place is not far from there.’

‘Where are we?’

‘Due south near Michelago, up in the Tinderry ranges.’ He held out his hand, palm up. ‘Come on. We’ll go to your so-called house and pick up her trail.’

Annwyn frowned, slightly angry that he didn’t completely believe her, but still able to understand his mistrust. She found it hard to believe herself, and she had objective proof that a woman had stolen her body. She took his hand and slid off the bed, holding the sheet to the front of her body.

‘Then she won’t be in my bed asleep, waiting to give me back my body and my life?’

Dane shook his head and smiled fleetingly. ‘If Nira stole your body from you without you knowing then she will not be giving it back so easily. She will be long gone. But there will be traces of her, things you will notice. Come on, I will gather up your…I mean, her clothes. Maybe you should take a shower. Come, I’ll show you where it is.’

He helped her walk with the sheet trailing behind her and led her to a large bathroom, finished in black enamel and matching black tiles. The chrome of the taps gleamed in contrast to the dark gloss of the walls and the bath and shower screen. In a built-in cupboard was an array of clean towels and toiletries. After showing her these Dane went away and came back with a set of clothes. Annwyn touched them lightly, inhaled the scent of them, the scent of Nira, which was now her scent. She thought it strange to be wearing another woman’s clothes, but ‘wearing’ another woman’s body was even stranger.

Under the hot, powerful spray of water, it was an alien sensation washing a body that was not hers. It was like being caressed, but it was her own hands running along her skin, with runnels of water invigorating her as she showered. Tentatively, she touched her clitoris, curious to see what it felt like. It was so sensitive after Dane’s touch that she gasped with the intensity. Straight away she was assaulted with the memory of his touch, his mouth on her neck, on her breasts. She stopped and placed her forehead against the tiles, letting the wave of passion wash over her before it receded to a dull ache. Would she even be able to walk with this much lust in her?

Over the spray of the shower she heard banging. Quickly, she shut off the water and the door opened. ‘Are you okay?’ Dane asked, his voice full of concern. ‘I thought I heard you cry out.’

Annwyn swallowed her embarrassment. ‘No, I’m fine. I…er…this is a bit difficult, you know, being in someone else’s body. Feels…you know…strange…’

He nodded as if he didn’t quite believe her. He must still consider this whole situation a trick to be listening so closely at the door. She supposed that he expected her to make a break for it.

His gaze lingered on her body. A wave of heat flowed from her head to her toes. ‘It will be dawn soon. We can investigate your story straightaway.’

Annwyn grabbed a towel, finding it quite odd to be conversing with this man while naked and dripping wet. Part of her wanted him to grab her and start all over again. Distracting as that thought was, she kept a wary eye on him.

Dane was very businesslike and this annoyed Annwyn, especially considering the man was naked and still aroused. Her hormones raced around her system, making it hard to think or breathe. She nodded at the door. ‘Do you mind? I would like to get dressed.’

He blinked once, then grinned. ‘I’ll be waiting.’ He drew the door closed behind him.

Annwyn found that the prospect of going home inspired her to dry off quickly and hurry in dressing. She took a moment for a look at her reflection, but found it so disconcerting she turned away and whipped open the door.

There, surrounded by wolves, was Dane, naked and powerful, just standing there. Her body reacted, sending her skin tingling. He was a beautiful man and so well made. He grinned when she stood there gaping and then stepped past her. ‘Rolf, keep an eye on her.’ Then the door shut behind him and, not long after, she heard the water running.

The wolves encircled her. Rolf’s citrine-coloured eyes continued to regard her. He nuzzled close to her leg, getting a good whiff of her. She wanted to push his muzzle away but dared not to in case the creature bit her hand. She had a healthy respect for the beast, for all of them as they circled her. Dane seemed to be taking his time in the bathroom so Annwyn sidled toward the bed and sat on the edge. She took in the room and the scent of sex that lingered in the air and inhaled deeply.

‘Well, doggy,’ she said to Rolf. ‘This is a funny situation to be in, isn’t it? Bet you never thought you’d wake up in a different body like I have?’

Rolf howled at her. Startled, she leaned back. Rolf jumped up, placing his forepaws on either side of her and leaned into her face. Again, there was a strange sense of ‘knowing’ coming from the beast.

‘Rolf!’ It was Dane. He stood there in the centre of the room, dark blue shirt clinging tightly to his form, denim jeans hugging his thighs, making him look even more buff than he did naked. Rolf backed down. Dane strode forward and crinkled Rolf’s brow with a scratch between the ears.

‘Sorry about that. Rolf can be zealous at times.’

She took his proffered hand. ‘Really? Just zealous?’ Annwyn sensed there had been more to it than that. Dominance and warning came to mind.




Chapter Four



The exterior of the house was as she had left it. With the grey garage door shut, she didn’t know if her car was still in there. The lilac tree hung mauve flowers over the porch and leaf litter fluttered on the morning breeze. Dane had to duck his head under a branch to enter the house. He had brought Rolf and signalled him to stay outside. Rolf trod off toward the back of the house.

With a quick look at Dane's midnight-coloured Lexus in the driveway, Annwyn turned to the front door, noticing that it was slightly ajar. Annwyn had left it bolted from the inside. This meant that either she had been burgled or someone had left the house in a hurry. She checked the lock as they stepped over the threshold and there was no sign of forced entry.

It was strange entering her home in another woman’s body. She caught sight of her reflection in the hall mirror and her heart skipped a beat. She was out of place in her own home. It was like a stranger’s house. She wanted to feel at home, feel the memories of her life there, but they seemed like stale echoes, fleeting and untraceable.

Dane’s presence, too, dominated the surroundings, making her home seem even more alien. Her gaze moved away from him, and she hoped she could pretend he wasn’t there. Yet, when they accidentally touched, her heart juddered. There was no ignoring him.

She ran her fingers along the back of the leather couch, liking the cool touch of it. On the dining room table was a half-full cup of cold coffee. Dane went over to it and sniffed it.

‘Traces of magic,’ he said, putting the cup back on the table.

‘Did she use magic to make the coffee?’

He shook his head. ‘No, to heat it. Check your bedroom. Look for missing items, clothing, etcetera.’

Annwyn nodded and went into her room. The bed covers were thrown off and the pillow still showed the indent from her head. She saw her underwear littering the hall to the ensuite bathroom. She followed the trail, careful not to touch the clothing in case Dane wanted to check it for signs of magic.

In the ensuite the mirror was still fogged. Nira had not used the exhaust fan. Lazy cow, Annwyn thought to herself as she wiped the mirror with a tissue. That woman’s face stared out at her, a frown creasing the forehead. Turning away from her reflection, Annwyn found the scene quite disturbing—a damp towel on the floor, water everywhere, and drawers open with her personal items strewn about. That woman had been there invading her space, touching her things, touching her body in the same way that Annwyn did. She trembled.

Dane called out. ‘In here,’ she responded. About to leave the small room she paused when she saw the hair on the floor. Stepping closer and kneeling down, she saw hanks of dark hair in the bin, with some lying on the tiles beside it. Then she caught sight of her dressmaking scissors. Nira must have ransacked the spare room to find those.

‘What is it?’ Dane asked from close behind her. She straightened and was suddenly overly warm. Dane’s body heat radiated around her and his light scent floated around her head, making her lose focus.

She swallowed once. ‘She has cut off my hair.’

His gaze narrowed. ‘I’m sorry. Does it mean a lot to you? It will grow back.’

The room started spinning and her vision went dark. Next thing, with her eyes fluttering open to adjust to the light, she lay on her own bed. Dane’s body weighed down the edge of the mattress. He was stroking her forehead, looking at her with a searching expression. ‘Are you feeling better now?’

Annwyn nodded. ‘What happened?’

‘You blacked out for a minute or two. Must have been the heat.’

Her gaze took in the room. ‘I’m not sure what it was. It feels so strange to be home. It’s like I’m a stranger in my own home as well as in this body. That bitch has violated me in every possible way. I can’t really express it.’ Annwyn was surprised at the vehemence in her voice. Was this really her talking like that?

Dane smiled slightly and nodded. ‘You seem to be doing a good job of expressing yourself. Wait here a minute. I have to gather up the hair and then, when you’re ready, we need to check the rest of the house to see what else she has taken.’

Rubbing her forehead and waiting for the dizziness to clear, she asked, ‘What does it matter? It’s only things.’

Dane spoke over his shoulder. ‘You can vest a lot of yourself in things. That is how I managed to summon Nira to me. Rolf found something personal of hers, a bracelet, something that she was fond of and had a connection to. However, once she discovered we were on to her, she decamped never to return and left little trace for us to follow. I used the bracelet to summon her.’

‘Can you use it again?’

Dane shook his head. ‘The bracelet was consumed by the spell. It was against her will so it took more power. Now she is in your body it will be harder to work through. To tell the truth, I’m not sure how I could summon her now that she’s changed places with you. It blurs her “signature”, for want of a better word.’

‘So she has escaped?’

Dane stroked her forehead. Annwyn felt that he wasn’t really aware he was doing so.

‘I’d wager she has taken something of yours, something that has high emotional value. That way she can stay connected to you, know what you are thinking and what I am doing.’

‘And the hair? Why did she cut it?’

‘Perhaps she wanted to disguise herself. That reminds me; we must get a photo of you so I can get the word out. However, leaving the hair behind may have been a mistake.’

‘Mistake? What do you mean?’

‘It is a physical connection to your body and it could come in useful.’

‘To summon her?’

Dane stroked his chin and stared into the middle distance. ‘Not to summon her, but tracking could be possible.’

Annwyn thought about this. It was her hair, part of her body and it shared the same genetic material. Was this a strong enough link? She knew too little of magic, too little of the occult to fully understand. Thankfully, Dane had a good knowledge of his sorcerer’s world and could handle himself. Then she remembered the curse that hung over his head and frowned. She didn’t like the thought of him being hurt, being damaged in some way. She found she liked him as he was.

While Dane was in the ensuite gathering up the discarded hanks of hair Annwyn lay on the bed, trying to put some order to her thoughts. The wardrobe was open so she gathered that some of her clothes would be gone. She supposed that she should get up to see which clothes were missing in case it could help them track Nira down. She doubted there was a strong enough emotional connection to her clothes to provide some kind of magical link, though.

Sitting up, she looked about the room that was once so familiar, trying to rationalise how weird it was to be in her own bed but in another woman’s body. Would Nira’s experience be the same? Was she groping around uncoordinated and gauche, or was she well prepared and well adjusted to stealing bodies and all that it entailed?

Tears threatened when Dane called from the ensuite to remind her to start looking for missing items and a photo. There were many things in her home that had sentimental value, little things that held memories of Thomas, of their life together, before he became ill and died. Hadn’t she been wrapped in memories before this whole episode began? With a heavy heart she swung her legs over the side of the bed to begin her search.

The lounge and dining room appeared to be in order. She found a photo of herself and left it on the dining room table for Dane. Her ornaments were where she left them. The stuffed rabbit Thomas had won at the local fete was in the corner gathering dust. The old dart board that Thomas used to practise on was still in the kitchen. On top of the fridge was his favourite mug. She remembered the dressmaking shears that Nira used to cut her hair. They had been in the spare room where she had all kinds of things packed away.

On the threshold of the spare room, she could see that Nira had been in a hurry. Carefully packed containers were lying on their sides, their contents spilled out on the carpet like tempest-tossed foam. At first, Annwyn found it hard to see what in particular had been disturbed.

There were swathes of material, hoarded for quilt-making, family photos, old letters, all strewn in the corner. There was sheet music, journals full of her life from before her marriage.

‘God, no!’ she said and fell to her knees. There was one very special journal in which she had chronicled her romance with Thomas, their first date, their first kiss, the time when she lost her virginity to him. She was eighteen and so very young, now that she thought about it. Yet it was a special journal for in it were Thomas’s views, too. He had commented on her thoughts, her feelings of love, and had added his own. Sharing it with him had been the most intimate thing she’d done. She remembered the look in his eyes when she’d been brave enough to show it. The gut churning had ceased, the moment he said he remembered this moment or that and asked if he could add his perspective. It was her most treasured possession and something she never wanted anyone else to see.

The chocolate tin where she had tucked away the journal was gone. Annwyn could hardly speak. It was her heart. Her life was etched in there. Sobs rose in her throat but she stifled them. Still her eyes burned with unshed tears.

Dane’s heavy step sounded behind her. He paused for a moment. ‘Something is missing? Tell me.’

Still kneeling, Annwyn kept very still, her face averted. She couldn’t answer. Kneeling beside her, he scanned the room. He touched her shoulder gently. That soft touch undid her, and she fell onto his shoulder, sobbing. Patiently, Dane waited for her to talk, stroking her along her back and running his fingers through her hair.

When she calmed she managed to speak through loud intakes of breath. ‘Mmm…my journal.’

‘I take it this was a special book,’ he said quietly in her ear.

‘Yes. It had a lot of intimate moments recorded in there. My husband’s, too.’

‘You’re married?’

‘I was.’

She lifted her face away from his shoulder and knuckled the tears from her eyes. He held her head between his hands and his gaze fell softly on her. She noticed the pale grey tones in his blue irises. ‘Then that is our link.’

‘Her link to me?’ She sniffed and wiped her nose on the back of her hand.

Dane let her go. ‘Yes, and if we are clever we can use it against her. You might be able to link to her as well.’

Annwyn groped around for a tissue, found a box and pulled one out. ‘So you believe me?’ she said after wiping her nose.

Dane moved closer to her and gently brushed the hair from her eyes. ‘Yes. I think I have to believe. I don’t know how she did it, particularly without me being aware.’

‘Why me? It’s so unfair.’

Dane lifted one shoulder and dropped it, then rubbed his chin. ‘There must be some link between you. It’s hard to believe it was a random occurrence. Some preparation was required for it to go so smoothly.’

Annwyn visualised the body she inhabited, and she could find no memory of ever having seen this woman. There was no intimacy between them. ‘I honestly don’t know her.’

‘Has there been anything unusual, cars following you, the feeling of being watched, your house being invaded while you were out?’

‘I can’t recall having any incidents like that.’

‘What about magic…er…occult? Have you ever dabbled?’

Annwyn let her mouth fall open before exclaiming. ‘No! Well, unless…’

‘What?’ he asked, brows furrowed.

Annwyn let her gaze slide away from him to her past, to her life with Thomas. ‘My husband’s family, they were interested in new-age philosophies and the occult, too. Some of them were plain weird―you know, wands, knives…’

‘Athames.’

Yes, that’s them, and spell books and strange gatherings in the night around bonfires…Not that I recall going to any of them. Although, we did socialise with some of them on occasion, and the family talked about the gatherings.’

‘And have you been mixing with the family recently?’

‘No, not much at all. Once Thomas was gone so was their connection to me. No children, you see.’

Dane nodded. ‘It could be the connection, but it does seem to be, by your account, a little cold. What about your husband? Where is he?’ he asked, his blue eyes wide.

Annwyn hung her head, scooping up some photographs and placing them back into the container. ‘He died about three years ago.’ Her voice was barely a whisper. She’d been unfaithful to his memory. Even though the choice had not been hers, she was guilty.

Dane’s lips compressed in a sombre expression. ‘Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realise.’ He stood up, bringing her to her feet. ‘Yet you said she used his memory to unlock you. Nira must have studied you, collected items from you: hair, skin, photos, your habits, even your grief.’

Annwyn shivered, feeling a cold hand of fear sweep up her spine. Someone had got close to her without her knowing, had invaded her privacy, her mind, her body. ‘Are you sure she needed those things?’

With his fingertips under her chin he lifted her face to look her in the eyes. ‘The way she accessed you was too smooth. I did not detect it when I should have.’

After he released her Annwyn stood up and moved to the door. ‘I don’t recognise her or her name.’ Annwyn’s nerves were on edge. Her hands were shaky, and she clenched them tight to hide her agitation. Having him close was making things worse, unsettling her in ways she had forgotten were possible. He was so damn attractive, it was difficult to stand near him without reaching out and touching him.


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